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Math down, language upPreliminary WASL results are mixed for island students.

Math scores among elementary-age Bainbridge students are declining, while reading, writing and listening skills continue to climb.Those are the preliminary findings of the latest round of Washington Assessment of Student Learning testing.While preliminary, this data does invite attention to the area of mathematics, said Faith Chapel, new superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Bainbridge Island School District.Results from the WASLs and other tests will be analyzed during this year's K-12 mathematics program review, she said. The district-wide math program review initially scheduled for 2000-2001 will be carried out this year. Data showing WASL scores statewide won't be released until mid-September, an Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction spokesperson said, to give districts time to check for errors in scoring. In 1999, those scoring the writing portion of the WASLs shifted criteria during the scoring process. The mistake meant that many students' tests through Washington had to be re-scored. That year, there were also several math problems that appeared with the answers next to them, skewing the results of the testing. Chapel says individual Bainbridge students test are being examined now at the district level, but no errors have been identified in test scoring so far. She said as much as a 3 percent rise or drop in scoring may be attributed to statistical error. Deputy Superintendent Ken Crawford said that some variation in test scores year to year may be attributed to the particular makeup of different classes.Before the district-wide math program review begins, the principals of each Bainbridge school will review the WASL data to identify problems that may exist in district teaching methods or curriculum.The WASL was first implemented in 1997 as part of Washington state's effort to reform education. The Commission on Student Learning set academic standards dubbed essential academic learning requirements. The WASLs measure whether students are meeting those requirements with tests at 4th, 7th and 12th grades.In 1993, the Education Reform Act mandated state-wide education standards. A pilot testing program was introduced in 1996, and in '97 Bainbridge school district began testing in the elementary grades. In 2001, the testing became mandatory for 7th and 10th graders. Tests in social studies, arts, and fitness are slated to begin in 2008, the year passing the WASLs becomes mandatory for high school graduation. WASL critics point out that there is, as yet, no plan to help 10th graders who don't make the grade. Others believe that teaching to the WASL may be driving too much teaching, statewide.The WASLs emphasize reasoning and written explanation, as opposed to the true/false and multiple choice answers of standard achievement testing.Students are not scored relative to each other, but on whether they met the objective standards. The WASL is still being examined for reliability, Superintendent of Schools Stephen Rowley said. Statewide, there has been the perception that scoring in the math portion is too rigorous. We haven't seen the new WASL scores from other districts, yet, so we don't know how much is our own scores, and how much is reflected statewide. However, we had planned to do our standard, cyclical math review, and clearly it is timely.

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